Five things to watch in Week 1
It’s finally here.
After a long eight months, B1G football is back on the television screens. What’s even better? After a grueling lag between snaps, the first weekend of the season offers three straight days of conference action. Bless the football gods.
All 14 B1G squads are in action this weekend, providing us with our first in-depth look at each team. With so much happening in the offseason, there’s plenty to keep an eye on during the first week of the year.
Here’s what I’ll be looking forward to seeing as we enter Week 1 of the 2016 campaign:
1. A bigger, faster, stronger Saquon Barkley
We’ve heard the excitement. We’ve seen the videos. Now, it’s time to get a look at the final product.
Barkley turned heads this offseason with record-breaking weight room feats. He followed that a few weeks later by posting the team’s fastest 40-yard-dash time this spring. Oh yeah, and he rushed for 1,075 yards as a freshman, the B1G’s fourth-best total last year.
The sample size of snaps Barkley takes may be limited as the Nittany Lions host Kent State, but an appetizer should be able to tide us over until the entrée arrives next weekend. Don’t be surprised if the 5-foot-11, 225-pound back is dragging defenders into the end zone or ripping off runs of 50 yards or more.
I’ve already tabbed Barkley as the leading candidate to top the B1G in rushing this season. We’ll get a peak of his potential this weekend.
2. Coaching debuts
Three B1G coaches are making their debut. Sort of.
DJ Durkin and Chris Ash were both defensive coordinators on B1G staffs a year ago, Durkin at Michigan while Ash was at Ohio State. The responsibilities have increased, but the transition is a bit smoother for the inter-conference hirings.
Illinois’ Lovie Smith is the only true newcomer to the B1G fraternity. It’s been 20 years since he was last on a college sideline and has spent 11 of the last 12 years as an NFL head coach.
It will be interesting to see how Maryland, Rutgers and Illinois operate under new management and how far the programs have come in a short period of time. Ash has the most daunting task in the opening week, as Rutgers battles no. 14 Washington in Seattle.
Durkin and Smith should start the year with a win, both hosting FCS opponents.
3. Which “Beast of the East” looks better
So, maybe we won’t find out too much about Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State this weekend. Games against Hawai’i, Furman and Bowling Green respectively will probably have people snoozing midway through the second quarter.
Still, it’ll be nice to catch a glimpse of the B1G’s elite and see if any deficiencies are exposed.
Related: Naming Tyler O’Connor the Starter is Major Early Positive Sign for Michigan State
Will J.T. Barrett play up to the Heisman standard? Can Tyler O’Connor fill the shoes of Connor Cook? Is Jabrill Peppers worthy of all the offseason hype? Those are all questions to keep in mind while the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes are dismantling their opponents on Saturday.
4. Nebraska’s offensive approach
I’m not going to beat around the bush. This unit has the potential to be one of the best in the B1G. A dual-threat quarterback, the best receiving corps in the conference and a stable backfield. Nebraska has the keys to run a high-powered offensive engine.
But will it be an offense with a run-first mindset? Or will Tommy Armstrong, Jr., be slinging passes all over the field?
Everyone has been barking for Mike Riley to run the football more frequently. Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo are capable of carrying a heavy workload. Having Jordan Westerkamp, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Brandon Reilly as weapons at receiver, Riley may be inclined to have Armstrong drop back more frequently than necessary.
Nebraska’s offense won’t have much trouble moving the ball against Fresno State, regardless of what its scheme looks like. Saturday will give us a peak of what to expect from the Huskers throughout the season.
5. Wisconsin playing against Dave Aranda
This is precisely what makes college football so great. In his first game as defensive coordinator at LSU, Aranda will be calling shots against the Badgers, where he spent the previous three seasons in the same position.
LSU and Wisconsin are eerily similar. Both teams love to run the football. Each team relies heavily on its stout defensive presence to win games. The Tigers have Leonard Fournette. The Badgers have Corey Clement. It was going to be a stellar match-up with regardless of which sideline Aranda stood.
There’s still plenty of respect for Aranda in Madison. But that won’t matter when Saturday afternoon rolls around.
“LSU is on our schedule, and we’re going to take care of business and go out with the same mindset — whether Dave Aranda is on the sideline or not,” linebacker Vince Biegel told ESPN.
Buckle up. This is going to be a fun one from Lambeau Field.